It was about a week ago when it happened… when I realized I had a problem. When I woke up that morning, my immediate thought went to the leftover pizza in the fridge. I wasn’t thinking about my “to do” list or my plans with friends that evening. I was thinking of that veggie and meat-filled piece of cold pizza. When my feet hit the floor, I started to walk towards the fridge while actually saying out loud “I’m not hungry”. I opened the fridge door. Still saying “I’m not hungry. I’m not hungry”. I grabbed the slice of pizza. I’m not hungry. I’m not hungry. I started chewing the slice and eventually ate all of it, all while saying to myself “I’m not hungry”. I knew the problem was real, and I needed to control it.
Where did it begin?
I remember being around 9 or 10 years old and hoarding bags of Combos in my nightstand. When my parents would be out running errands, I’d pretend I was the host of my own cooking show at the kitchen island. I’d concoct “fancy” recipes like potato chips with peanut butter. I knew “closet eating” Combos and waiting until my parents left so I could eat the “bad” food was a problem. I knew it was unhealthy. It wasn’t like I didn’t know better.
By the time I was 10, I had gotten my menstrual cycle, probably earlier than anyone in my class. I was the only girl in the locker room filling out a training bra. I remember looking at the thinner girls and thinking that because they were smaller, they were pretty, and I wasn’t. I blamed the puberty for why I wasn’t thin. It wasn’t because I was eating Combos late at night.
I was never really bullied in school, at least not about my appearance. I can’t remember a time when the “popular” girls made fun of my weight. I just assumed they did. I would browse my Seventeen magazines and see the advertisements in the back for “fat camp”, and I actually wanted to go. Who actually wants to go to fat camp??
By the time middle school ended, I had thinned out a little because I was making home workout regimens for myself and sticking to them, but I still thought I was fat.
It was in my high school years when TV movies seemed to revolve around eating disorders. I remember watching Tracie Gold and Jennie Garth battle eating disorders on my TV, and I wanted to be thin like them. I wanted to have an eating disorder (who says that!?!?). I tried once eating a sleeve of chocolate chip cookies and throwing them up. That didn’t last long. I tried once to be anorexic. I made it to dinnertime before I quit.
It wasn’t until the end of high school before I started to feel pretty and confident. I was determined to go to college with this new mindset.
Throughout college, I spent many hours in the gym working out, but I developed some unhealthy eating habits from being on my own for the first time. I vividly remember eating a lot of Stouffer’s pizzas and Wawa hoagies with lots of mayo, and I was on a weird eating schedule because I had classes all day and then worked nights at TGIFriday’s. I sometimes didn’t hit the gym until 2am.
I think I’ve gotten off on a tangent here. What I’m trying to say is… I’ve been addicted to food and have developed poor eating habits over many, many years, and I’m just now realizing how big of a problem it has become. When I go out with friends to a Mexican restaurant, all I can think about is the basket of chips with salsa. I think about getting my fair share. My friend better offer me half of the last chip. I always ask for a refill if the server offers it. Same thing with the bread basket. I hope my dining companion is keeping track of how many she’s had because I lost count, and we should both get equal portions of bread! When I go to an event, my first thought is about the food. Can I make a meal out of the appetizers so I don’t have to make dinner later? Will anyone see me if I take seconds (or thirds)? Dang, that cheese dip is delicious! I hope they have more in the back in case this one runs out. I’d come home from said event and eat Nutella out of the jar with a spoon. See? I have a problem.
Where do I go from here?
I’ve been saying to friends and my mom for a while now that I needed something like Weight Watchers where I get the support, but I needed something along the lines of AA or NA where we’ve all recognized we have a big problem. A problem larger than ourselves. Larger than just the food we eat. For me personally, Weight Watchers just didn’t work. They teach you what to eat (kind of) but they don’t fix the problem. I absolutely loved my leader, but the people in the meetings would encourage others to drink Diet Coke and eat spray butter and fake sugar. And WW tries to push their fake sugar products. No. Just no.
I needed a group to stop coddling me and start telling me I have a problem.
Before the Meeting
I showed up unusually early for me, so I had about 45 minutes to just sit near the meeting room at the hospital. I was alone in my thoughts, so I brought out my notebook I always carry with me and just started to write what I was feeling. I started to feel really ashamed that I needed to be there. How did I let myself get to this point? I ended up messaging Emily and talking things out with her. She was extremely helpful in settling my nerves and telling me more about her experiences. (Emily is very open about her OA experience. Otherwise, I would have kept her name out of this blog for the sake of her anonymity.)
As soon as I walked in, I was greeted with very welcoming, warm smiles. They wanted to know me and were very encouraging that I share during the meeting. They handed me an OA book and the “welcome” materials.
OA follows basically the same 12 steps as AA and NA, and this week’s topic was Step 6: handing your human defects over to God or a Higher Power. Everyone but myself and another new person had shared their story as it related to Step 6, and then I was “nudged” by another member to also share. I immediately started off with “I’m not even sure how appropriate it is to share this, but I don’t believe in God or a higher power, so if you have the same beliefs and have some suggestions, please get up with me.” And then I followed with my story and related it to the passage in the book about using the same old tools you’ve been using to fight your addictions (more on that later).
After the meeting, several women approached me about how they interpret “Higher Power” and offered some passages in the AA and OA books about being Atheist and Agnostic in OA. I also received a few hugs and lots of “keep coming back” encouragements. I left with lots of reading material, a “welcome” chip, and lots to think about.
Since the Meeting
It’s been five days since the meeting, and I can honestly say it definitely changed my mindset. My head has been clear. I’ve been focused at work, and I’ve kept a really tidy home (you know how hard that is for me. I’m working on it!) I went to the grocery store tonight and left with lots of veggies and lean proteins. I’m ready to take this on 100%!
I’ve given myself this week to just let myself think about OA. I ordered the book but haven’t read a word of it. I just want to take it all in and make sure OA’s for me. I don’t really consider myself to be an “overeater”. I don’t binge. My body knows its limits and stops me at a certain point, so I’ve never been one to drink a whole 2-liter of Coke or eat an entire bag of chips in a seating. I think I just choose the wrong types of foods, and my hunger trigger is out of whack. So, I’ve named myself a “food addict” instead of a “compulsive overeater”. I think it suits me better.
Since so much of the literature includes God and Higher Power, I decided to find a suitable “Higher Power” that I could use and feel comfortable with. One Facebook friend said “I’m Agnostic and my HP is my true soul. The best, most beautiful part of me. The part of me that wants nothing but the healthiest, happiest, addiction-free life. I am my own HP.” Brilliant! It’s awesome to think that there’s a beautiful, authentic, addiction-free Andrea that’s inside of me who is yearning to come out. She knows the difference between being hungry and having a craving. She’s healthy, happy, and full of life, and I can’t wait to meet her.
The Difference Between OA and Weight Watchers
I really like that OA doesn’t have a leader. Someone in the group volunteers each week to lead the group. No one is allowed to interject or offer an opinion while someone’s speaking. No one’s trying to sell you products. There’s no pressure to weigh in every week or even share what you weigh. There’s no judgment. No egos. There’s no cost. You simply donate what you want to contribute whenever you want. I like that I’ve been able to take this week to reflect on the group and the meeting without having to learn an eating plan and worry about next week’s weigh-in (because there are no weigh-ins).
This isn’t about counting calories. It’s about dealing with the deep-seeded problem I’ve developed.
(Weight Watchers is great for some, but I’m saying it wasn’t for me, and I don’t think it ever will be.)
My next OA meeting is on Wednesday. I’m looking forward to diving more into the program to figure out if it’s for me. I enjoy the meeting aspect and learning about the experiences of others. I’m not sure I’m keen on the 12 Steps yet since research shows those types of programs work for the minority. But I’m willing to give it a shot!